Practical Horseman - - Features -

You know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that your horse can read your body lan­guage, your tone of voice, your emo­tions. Like­wise, you can pick up mean­ing from his sig­nals—the po­si­tion of his ears, the swish of a tail and so on. In short, we com­mu­ni­cate with each other. But would your horse ever use those skills to ask you for help? New re­search from Ja­pan in­di­cates the an­swer is yes.

Re­search fel­low Mon­amie Ringhofer and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Shinya Ya­mamoto, both of the Kobe Univer­sity Grad­u­ate School of In­ter­cul­tural Stud­ies, set out to pro­vide sci­en­tific evidence of the col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween horses and hu­mans and the over­all cognitive (or think­ing) abil­ity of equines. To do so, they cre­ated a study that would eval­u­ate how horses in­ter­act with hu­mans when faced with a prob­lem the horse can’t solve. The re­searchers also wanted to see how that in­ter­ac­tion might change based on the hu­man’s knowl­edge of the horse’s prob­lem.

The study in­cluded a team of stu­dent care­tak­ers and eight horses. Test­ing took place in a univer­sity pad­dock.

In the first phase of the study, an as­sis­tant placed a bucket of car­rots so it was out of the horse’s reach and hid­den from the care­taker. When a care­taker en­tered the pad­dock later, un­aware of the hid­den bucket, the horse stood near the per­son, looked at him, touched and even nudged the per­son. This be­hav­ior lasted longer than when the ex­per­i­ment was con­ducted as a con­trol without hid­ing the bucket.

In the sec­ond phase of the study, the care­taker watched the bucket of car­rots be­ing hid­den. The horses en­gaged in sim­i­lar sig­nal­ing be­hav­ior. How­ever, the sig­nal­ing was sig­nif­i­cantly less than in the first sce­nario when the care­taker didn’t know about the car­rots.

The re­searchers believe these re­sults in­di­cate that the horses were ask­ing the hu­mans for as­sis­tance in find­ing the bucket. In ad­di­tion, re­searchers believe the horses could distinguish be­tween— and change their be­hav­ior based on—whether or not the per­son knew there was a bucket of car­rots around. In other words, horses ap­pear to change their com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­hav­ior based on a hu­man’s knowl­edge of a sit­u­a­tion— the less the per­son knows, the harder the horse works to ex­plain.

The team hopes to con­duct fu­ture re­search that looks more closely at both horse-to-horse and horse-to­hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Mean­while, their first study serves to con­firm what most horse own­ers al­ready know: Our horses re­ally do “talk” to us!

Iden­ti­fy­ing the Real Lame Leg

If your horse has ever felt off and you’ve tried to deter­mine which leg is lame, you know how hard it can be. For many peo­ple, it’s even harder if that lame­ness seems to stem from the hind end. New re­search shows there’s a solid rea­son for the dif­fi­culty: Some­times what ap­pears to be an un­sound leg is a sound one that’s sim­ply com­pen­sat­ing for the truly lame limb.

Dur­ing a three-year study, Sylvia Maliye, BSc, BVM&S, and John F. Mar­shall, PhD, BVMS, both of the Univer­sity of Glas­gow, stud­ied 37 horses di­ag­nosed with hind-limb lame­ness. Nine­teen of the horses had only hind-limb lame­ness; 10 pre­sented as lame in the front and hind limb on the same side; and the other eight showed lame­ness in a hind limb and the di­ag­o­nal fore­limb.

Lame­ness ex­ams were con­ducted us­ing both di­ag­nos­tic lo­cal anes­the­sia (com­monly known as nerve blocks) and an in­er­tial sen­sor-based lame­ness diagnosis sys­tem. This sys­tem uses sen­sors placed on the horse’s head, cen­tral

pelvis and one front pastern to iden­tify sub­tle asym­me­tries in gait, pro­vid­ing an ob­jec­tive lame­ness eval­u­a­tion.

Re­searchers found that horses who had front and hind lame­ness on the same side im­proved in front-limb sound­ness when just the hind limb was nerve-blocked. This in­di­cates that the horse was truly lame only in the hind limb. The stereo­typ­i­cal head nod in­di­cat­ing po­ten­tial front-limb is­sues oc­curred only be­cause the horse was at­tempt­ing to off-load weight from the sore hind leg.

On the other hand, horses who ex­hib­ited lame­ness in a di­ag­o­nal pair of legs did not show an im­prove­ment in front-limb sound­ness when the hind limb was blocked. This in­di­cates that both legs were truly af­fected. How­ever, a pre­vi­ous study by Maliye and Dr. Mar­shall showed that it’s also pos­si­ble for only the front limb to be lame with the hind limb ap­pear­ing off only be­cause the horse isn’t us­ing it fully, again in an ef­fort to com­pen­sate for pain in the op­pos­ing limb.

All of this re­in­forces the im­por­tance of seek­ing pro­fes­sional guid­ance the next time your horse starts tak­ing those funny steps.— Sushil Du­lai Wen­holz

Re­searchers have found that horses can try to com­mu­ni­cate with hu­mans when pre­sented with a prob­lem they can’t solve.

Pin­point­ing a lame­ness can be dif­fi­cult, as many horses may com­pen­sate for their un­sound­ness by show­ing symp­toms in a sound leg dur­ing the exam.

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